“Pittsburgh’s going to the Super Bowl. I got a feelin’.”
That would be the song that Lou Geary would sing during loose moments in his woodshop class at what was then called Stanford Middle School. It was a trademark tune crooned by Pittsburgh fans almost annually as fall gave way to winter and head coach Chuck Noll took a franchise that was once the laughing stock of the National Football League (one playoff team from 1945-1971) and led them to four Super Bowl championships in six seasons.
The names that shaped those championship teams and made the Pittsburgh Steelers a worldwide brand name are synonymous with football. Terry Bradshaw. Joe Greene. Franco Harris. Jack Lambert. John Stallworth. Lynn Swann.
They all captured Geary’s imagination as he played under coach Bud Billiard at Brooke High School in Weilsburg, West Virginia. Just as Noll built the Steelers franchise from the ground up starting in the early 1970s, Geary did the same thing with various athletic programs at Stanford and at Cedar Ridge High School in the subsequent three decades. Like Noll, Geary was a championship coach many times over.
On October 31, Geary passed away in New Bern after a four-year battle with dementia at the age of 63. Funeral services will be held today at Hillsborough United Methodist Church at 3PM.
Donald Lou Geary graduated from Fairmont State University, where he was enshrined in the school’s Hall of Fame in 2020 for football and wrestling. He was a four-year letterman in football with the Falcons, along with a two-year letterman for wrestling. After graduation, he journeyed to Hillsborough with his wife and was hired by Stanford Principal Leonard Mayo as an industrial arts teacher. Geary was the football, wrestling and track & field coach at Stanford from 1987 until 2000. The Chargers became a dominant Wednesday afternoon institution in northern Orange County, often playing games at Auman Stadium and collecting one Orange-Person Athletic Conference championship after another. Geary’s two oldest sons, Mack and Sam, played at Stanford for their father.
“He wanted people to love the game just as much as he did,” said Jake Geary, his youngest son. “He shared that passion with anybody who even had the smallest interest in it. His high school coach, Bud Billiard, was a tremendous influence on him. He was just as passionate as many father was. That’s where my father got his drive from.”
Stanford’s wrestling program was even more dominant. They went years without losing a dual match. Stanford was Orange High’s feeder school, which was part of the reason why Orange won 16 consecutive conference championships and five state championships under head coach Bobby Shriner.
“He loved Stanford,” said Jake, who played at Stanback. “He had a dynasty there. He was with his buddies at Stanford. He didn’t want to leave that until Mack, Sam and I got older and went on to high school.”
After one season as an assistant under former Orange football coach Bill Hynus in 2001, Geary was chosen by Cedar Ridge Athletic Director, Jim Pappas, to become the first head football coach at Cedar Ridge High School. Naturally, he would also be the Red Wolves’ first wrestling coach. In the midst of the summer of 2002, as officials prepared for the opening of Cedar Ridge, Geary and baseball coach Andy Simmons would pick up rocks off the field that would eventually become Cedar Ridge Stadium.
“It was a huge change of pace being at a higher level,” Jake said of his father’s transition to Cedar Ridge. “They started the program from scratch. Over that summer, I was right out there picking up rocks with my dad. One of his former players texted me the other day to remind me about that. He literally had to build that program from scratch.”
Geary took over the Cedar Ridge program in 2002 without any seniors. Within three years, they captured its first football conference championship.
At Cedar Ridge, Geary coached the greatest running back in school history, Devon Moore, who would go on to be a featured back for Appalachian State’s 2006 Division I National Championship team. Moore rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries as Appalachian defeated Massachusetts 28-17 in Chattanooga, TN to win the national championship. Moore rushed for nearly 6,000 yards and 42 touchdowns in his Cedar Ridge career, though Appalachian State and Wofford were the only schools to offer him a Division I scholarship.
In 2006, Cedar Ridge went 10-4 and reached the third round of the 2-AA State Playoffs. After playoff wins over Swansboro and Northwood, the Red Wolves lost to Bunn in the regional semifinals.
“That was one of the highlights of his career,” Jake said. “All those kids that stuck together and reaching the third round of the playoffs was high on his list.”
“He meant so much to this school,” said Simmons, now Cedar Ridge’s Athletic Director. “I came over with him from Orange. Just as incredible person. He touched so many lives in Hillsborough and surrounding places. Sometimes, there are just no words to describe what a person meant to so many. I think Coach Geary is one of those people.”
Jake was the 2010 2A North Carolina High School Athletic Association Shot Put champion at Cedar Ridge. He played football at East Carolina under head coach Ruffin McNeill after being recruited by Skip Holtz, now the head coach at Louisiana Tech. Jake Geary currently teaches at North Carolina Virtual Public Schools after four years at Broad Creek Middle School in Newport.
“He coached me just like he would anyone else on the team,” Jake said. “I always told people that I had to have it tougher because if I didn’t, people would say I was getting playing time just because I was the coach’s son. It was hard but I enjoyed having him as my coach. I didn’t just get it at practice, I got it at home, too.”
Geary left Cedar Ridge in 2010 to coach at Person High School, partly to get closer to a lake house that the family owned near Roxboro. They held annual Super Bowl parties there every winter, including Super Bowl XLIII, where Geary’s Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-23.
Even after all the championships he won in Hillsborough, Geary never forgot that the greatest place on earth is home. In 2015, he returned to West Virginia as an assistant coach for East Fairmont High School’s football team, serving with his brother, John, the head coach. The following year, Lou became the head coach for the 2016 season before resigning and returning to North Carolina.
“He wasn’t even looking for a job,” Jake said. “His brother wound up calling him and asked if he wanted to do with him. He jumped all over that and they worked together. It was a young team and they were trying to build something together.”
In recent years, Geary had kept up with Cedar Ridge athletics. Jake says it was a topic of one of their final conversations at a memory care facility in New Bern, where Geary stayed since July.
“Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard from people from West Virginia to North Carolina to Virginia,” Jake said. “Old coaches and teammates that I’ve never met before. All of them said the same thing. He loved the game and he took everybody under their wing and treated them exactly the same. He always had a smile on his face. It was amazing reading how many people he impacted.”